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Product management is 90 years old and still unestablished?


Recently I was reminded how old product management is. Well, kinda. We don't have an exact date the discipline was born. Maybe it happened alongside the first industrialisation attempts, maybe later, but no later than marketing established itself and early brand managers wear their hats. One is certain - product management is not new. How then we still call it unestablished?
 
It's no secret - PM job's definition is a mess. Just read any dozen PM vacancies and you'll find a wide range of titles, responsibilities and expectations. And when you land the job - it doesn't get easier. Explaining what PMs do (or should do) is inevitable. Often it feels like you constantly need to justify your own existence.
 
So it's hard to judge those who gave up. PMs who are so tired to fight organisational ignorance or bad processes. Instead - they've adapted and are doing what is expected of them in this particular place. This results in people doing project management, business analysis, solution architecture, product design... all while having a product manager title. And a product manager's salary. 

That's obviously no fun for the PM who wants to do her job properly. But such a situation is a waste of money for the company as well. It's like when you hire engineers to only write code you lose half of their value. When you hire PMs to do only one of the activities from their skillset - you're grossly overpaying. Just hire a specialist in this particular activity and save yourself some money.
 
Not every company needs a product manager. Some were and continue to be successful working how they used to. If you're a business owner or an executive and you want to hire a PM because all your buddies from the MBA class already did it, well, maybe you shouldn't. It's like buying a truck to drive alone to a local shop in the city - sure, it will do the job, but why waste so much money?
 
As a business owner or a CEO, you need to do a thousand things. Among those: 
  • Getting insights into your market and customers 
  • Validate new product ideas 
  • Constantly optimise the value and experience you serve 
  • Grow your business 
  • Minimise investment risks 
  • Innovate 
  • And so on and on 
Surely you can hire a person to take care of every item listed above. Or you can hire a good product manager. The savings on your side will be huge, however, you need to support the PM and enable her to do the job fully and properly. 

What kind of support you need to provide? 

  • Clearly define the PM role and spread the information around the company. 
  • Provide the PM with as much context as possible, including your long term vision, strategy, market insights, investment plans and so on. 
  • Keep PM in the loop when the above gets updated. 
  • Dedicate some one-on-one time with the PM to discuss their progress and provide feedback. 
  • Regularly evangelise your product culture when talking to employees, investors and customers. 
  • Practise and promote the learning mindset so your employees would feel secure to take risks, experiment and innovate. 
Product management is not a new role. Perhaps due to its versatility - a lot of people still struggle with explaining what PMs do. This might result in some companies seriously overpaying when they hire PMs to do only the bits of their job. Given proper support, a good PM will add great value to the company and its chances for long term success. 

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